The Challenge That Is Facebook

With over 500,000,000 active users, Facebook is not something that you can ignore as a marketer. In part, the issue is the amount of time that many users spend on the site. In lieu of TV, magazines, books, sports, etc…people spend hours on Facebook. As a result, many marketers are investing significant amounts of time and money trying to build programs in Facebook. But, is that time and money well-spent?

Check out this this excellent animated infographic from Alex Trimpe, a student at CCAD (Columbus College of Art & Design), for some eye-popping factoids about Facebook.

The World Is Obsessed With Facebook from Alex Trimpe on Vimeo.

Then for some sobering counter-balance, read the well-constructed post on Fortune.com titled “Facebook: Where marketing efforts go to die?” While loads of marketers chase down the magic formula for engaging customers via Facebook, writer Kit Roane serves up tasty nuggets like:

“Razorfish’s recent 2011 Liminal study points out that consumers prize a few things when engaging with a company. They want a modicum of trust, a feeling of being valued, a sense of control, and they want the experience to be efficient, consistent and relevant to their lives. So, where do consumers choose to go when they want to “engage” with a brand?

The Razorfish survey found that despite the gobs of time people spend on places like Facebook (1 out of every 8 minutes online), they don’t use Facebook when they want to connect with a company.”

Personally, when I use Facebook, it is not because I am dying to see ads or be solicited. Of course, in truly hypocritical modern fashion, I enjoy the free character of Facebook, so I guess it should not be a shock that ads will creep into the experience unless I want to fork over the dollars needed to keep my space ad-free.

And therein lies the great challenge of Facebook — how to deliver marketing content to users without being obtrusive, annoying or obnoxious, since the users are not there with a shopping first mindset? Successful Facebook presence is less about advertising than it is about engagement. Look at pages like:

and you will see that the pages promote conversation and community while making customers aware of specials, etc. The behavior is much like putting in a store in a town…you want to be where buyers are so that you are easy to engage when the time is right.  Putting some content in place, being “current”, and encouraging conversation by simple techniques like asking questions — are not necessarily expensive tasks. However, to be effective, companies must be authentic and consistent. That means that creating a Facebook presence is not about build a page or two. It is about building a way of conducting business. It is about philosophy. And it takes real commitment, which over time can add up in both time and money.

For me as a consumer, I find the Facebook environment to be a unique laboratory; a place to explore consumer interests and behaviors in ways we could never conveniently or cheaply do. This makes it a must-be destination for some of my company’s customers, and certainly for me as a practitioner. But, I encourage clients to understand that it is still a work-in-progress, and one where flashy investments by some major brands will capture headlines. But for many brands, especially in consumer markets, having an outpost in this new environment is an essential part of everyday operation, even if the only direct value is the learning that will come from the effort.

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